Ella Rule (then vice-chair, now chair of the CPGB-ML) outlines the reasons that British workers should vote to leave the European Union in a short talk delivered to an audience in London in May 2016.
“Temporary agreements are possible between capitalists and between states … a United States of Europe is possible as an agreement between the European capitalists … but to what end? Only for the purpose of jointly suppressing socialism in Europe … under capitalism, a United States of Europe would signify an organisation of reaction.” (Our emphasis)
Although there have been many changes in the century since Lenin wrote these words, the essence remains the same: a union of imperialist states can only be a reactionary entity – and it can’t last.
The EU is an imperialist club, not a workers’ one. It is designed to give Europe’s capitalist rulers the economic and militarily strength to safeguard their imperialist status against (a) their imperialist rivals (the USA, Japan), (b) the oppressed peoples they exploit abroad, and (c) the working classes at home.
Enemies on both sides
In opposing the EU, socialists find themselves in nauseating company – from anti-immigrant, xenophobic and islamophobic hatemongers to little Englanders pining for a return to the imperial ‘glory’ days when Britannia ‘ruled the waves’ alone. There are also miserly types who don’t want to pay the price of EU membership.
It may suit politicians to blame ‘Brussels bureaucrats’ for unpopular decisions, but Britain’s rulers have made a point of exempting themselves from aspects of EU law that they don’t like. Britain opted out of the European working time directive, refuses benefits to unemployed Europeans and is presently removing human rights safeguards, for example.
Meanwhile, TUC chief Frances O’Grady and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have both joined the social-democratic chorus exhorting workers to remain in the EU, saying that a British exit would lead to a “bonfire of rights” and assuring us that a benign EU is our best protection from ‘nasty Tories’.
Ms O’Grady opines that “Without an EU legal safety net it wouldn’t be long before bad employers started cutting back on paid holidays, pushing workers to work longer hours with fewer breaks, and stopping pregnant workers getting time off …”
The workers of Greece, whose pensions and welfare benefits have been decimated, and whose hospitals now lack basic medicines, might have something to say about how the kindly EU ‘safeguards’ workers’ rights!
Securing our rights
In fact, the high watermark of rights for British workers came after WW2 (well before Britain joined the EU), as a result of militant struggle by workers here backed up by the brilliant successes of Soviet socialism – first in building a strong and prosperous society and then in defeating German fascism.
The truth is that we cannot pin our hopes on the kindness of this or that group of capitalists, but must prepare ourselves to defend the interests of our class by any means necessary – and fight to win.
Too many of those who ought to be in the front line of organising this struggle (eg, Ms O’Grady) are instead working overtime to reconcile us to imperialism.
Weakening our rulers
The British bourgeoisie has encouraged xenophobia as a way of rallying mass support for its wars and brigandage abroad, and as a means of dividing the working class at home. Ironically, this carefully inculcated racism may be what is needed to pull Britain out of the EU on 23 June – and this could prove disastrous for our rulers.
According to The Economist: “Europe’s links to America would become more tenuous … the loss of its biggest military power and most significant foreign-policy actor would seriously weaken the EU in the world … ”
In other words, not only would Britain outside the EU be less able to bully other countries, but the EU’s power would also diminish, and US imperialism would be weakened by the weakening of its ally.
Naturally, if the British ruling class becomes more fragile; if its ability to superexploit abroad is diminished, it will try to make good its losses at the expense of the working class at home. Life may become more difficult for the British proletariat for a time.
But since we will be left facing a weakened enemy class, we will also have moved one step closer to the goal of ridding ourselves of these leeches altogether.